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Private health insurance is on the rise

Private health insurance is on the rise

A growing number of people are paying for private health insurance, says Dr David Turner

‘Do you have private health insurance?’ It’s a question I rarely asked until the past couple of years. But I now ask this question to most patients who need an elective referral.

A recent poll showed that one in six adults would be willing to use the private sector for healthcare if the wait for NHS treatment was more than 18 weeks. Meanwhile, one in eight adults who struggled to access NHS services during the Covid pandemic opted for private healthcare.

These statistics do not surprise me. Anecdotally, I see more and more of my wealthier patients paying for private health insurance. What’s more worrying is that my less well-off patients without private insurance, who are either unwilling or unable to wait for NHS treatment, are paying for private treatment with savings or loans.

Healthcare in Britain is rapidly disintegrating into a two-tier service – and it’s not just patients moving to private care when the NHS fails to meet their needs. Doctors are, too.

Many newly qualified GPs and mid-career family doctors have also had enough. In the past year, I have heard of many doctors moving to work for the growing number of private GP services that are springing up in and around London and the South East.

I fear that we are heading towards a situation in which we will be paying a Scandinavian level of taxation for a USA level of public services – the worst of all worlds.

It’s not difficult to imagine a time, not too distant from now, when the NHS is essentially there for A&E, cancer, heart attacks and strokes, maternity and paediatrics. The ‘less serious’ stuff, such as dermatology, rheumatology, ophthalmology, orthopaedics, physiotherapy and mental health services, will be fragmentary at best. All but the very poorest will head to the private sector rather than wait many months or years for an appointment in these specialities.

An arthritic hip or cataract may not kill you, but they can make life very miserable. Plus, it is we GPs who must soak up patients’ misery and frustration with the failing NHS elective treatment service.

‘More funding’ is usually mooted as the knee-jerk answer to this problem, but, sadly, I think we are way past that point. The NHS workforce is so worn down and demoralised that no amount of money would ever be able to fix the problem.

I think we must accept that the NHS can no longer be the cradle to a comprehensive free service to all. Treatment for very serious conditions will remain, but as for everything else, overt rationing – rather than the covert form we have now ­– will need to be in place.

NHS leaders need to be honest with the public and stop persisting with the delusion that the health service can continue to provide every type of treatment for everyone, because it simply cannot.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but we no longer live in the UK that Bevan inhabited in 1948.

Dr David Turner is a GP in Hertfordshire



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Christopher Ho 24 August, 2022 10:38 am

“It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but we no longer live in the UK that Bevan inhabited in 1948” – that is correct, and the CAUSE for the change is that very system – state socialism. I would like to know – do/can you see the negative effects of socialised policies? Or do you think there are none?

Dr N 24 August, 2022 3:42 pm

The NHS of 1947 was for saving ‘life and limb’, it was created to manage every ache and pain, to treat verrucas, infertility etc etc.
Health care globally is now unaffordable. Spain has had a functional two tier system for years which they accept. If you want a Norwegian or Swedish health care system just hope we find oil fields in every county or accept 50% tax as norm.

Patrufini Duffy 24 August, 2022 4:10 pm

And there you are still doing Victorian-aged home visits for FREE. Unpaid social work. The embarrassing unaddressed historical mockery of you. Privatisation is a good thing. The Americans have been in the DoH for a while. Don’t worry, colonial Britain selling more off, and making its people feel the squeeze and pain. False promises coming to head. Anyway, time to move on. Let the gaping cracks crumble at the doors of the public. Riots are coming. Not your problem, you take the dollar and go work for a decent employer.

Kosta MANIS 25 August, 2022 10:27 am

Before you join a private health insurance, please ask what the consultant’s rate per consultation is: usually £100-250, time per consultation and what percentage you are expected to pay yourself: usually 15 minutes (additional fee for longer), waiting time varies widely from one week for a less popular consultant to four weeks and more for the “top” ones.
Often the consultant of your choice is not covered by your insurance and you are forced to choose from the limited list available, or pay the whole fee for the consultant of your choice.
Then read very carefully the small print, or you’ll realise that you have to contribute towards consultation and diagnostics charges.
Don’t be surprised if the annual subscription rises faster than the inflation rate and even faster after you hit 50.
Accidents & Emergencies are not covered and if you turn up at your local private hospital with an acute illness or fractured bone, they will divert you to the nearest A&E.

David Church 25 August, 2022 10:48 am

The small print is far worse than for any other kind of insurance.
Hardly anything is covered – elderly people I know are basically paying about £ 4,000 to £ 6,000 per year (each) just to belong to an advertising agency that can direct you to care you will have to pay for almost entirely without any reduction by virtue of being a ‘member’ or (i think it is fake to use the term) ‘insured person’.
If anything, save the annual membership fee for use on care you need, or you will be unable to afford even that.

Nick Mann 27 August, 2022 10:36 am

Interesting that the typical neoliberal trolls who post regularly on this site to decry the NHS and its vocational service are not even registered with the GMC.
The NHS can be rebuilt, just like water can be renationalised. Good things should be appreciated.